‘China build­ing se­cret is­land in South China Sea’

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

VIENTIANE — The Philip­pines re­leased pho­tos yes­ter­day to back its claims that China had se­cretly be­gun work to ce­ment con­trol over a cru­cial shoal in the hotly-con­tested South China Sea.

The re­lease of the im­ages, which claimed to show Chi­nese ships pre­par­ing to build an ar­ti­fi­cial is­land on Scar­bor­ough Shoal, came hours ahead of a meet­ing between South­east Asian lead­ers and Chi­nese Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang in Laos.

China this week in­sisted it had not launched any ef­forts to be­gin con­struc­tion at the shoal, which has enor­mous strate­gic im­por­tance for Bei­jing’s am­bi­tions to con­trol the sea and weaken US mil­i­tary in­flu­ence in the re­gion. But the Philip­pines said the im­ages showed Chi­nese ships at the shoal last week­end that were ca­pa­ble of dredg­ing sand and other ac­tiv­i­ties re­quired to build an ar­ti­fi­cial is­land.

“We have rea­son to be­lieve that their pres­ence is a pre­cur­sor to build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties on the shoal,” de­fence depart­ment spokesper­son Arse­nio An­do­long told AFP in a text mes­sage.

“We are con­tin­u­ing our sur­veil­lance and mon­i­tor­ing of their pres­ence and ac­tiv­i­ties, which are dis­turb­ing.”

China claims nearly all of the sea, through which $5trn in ship­ping trade passes an­nu­ally, even wa­ters ap­proach­ing the coasts of the Philip­pines and other South­east Asian na­tions.

The com­pet­ing ter­ri­to­rial claims have long been a ma­jor source of ten­sion in the re­gion, with China us­ing deadly force twice to seize con­trol of is­lands from Viet­nam.

Con­cerns have es­ca­lated sharply in re­cent years as China has built ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands on reefs and islets in the Spratlys ar­chi­pel­ago — an­other strate­gi­cally im­por­tant lo­ca­tion — that are ca­pa­ble of sup­port­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions.

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